U.S. admiral visits Israel amid Iran chatter

JERUSALEM Thu Sep 6, 2012 9:28am EDT

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JERUSALEM (Reuters) - The vice chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff visited Israel's defense minister on Thursday, in a display of alliance after the two countries expressed differences over Iran.

Admiral James Winnefeld smiled broadly, exchanging pleasantries with Ehud Barak in his office in Tel Aviv in a brief video released by the Israeli Defense Ministry. The ministry gave no details about the visit.

It comes after General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, dismayed Israeli officials by saying that Washington did not want to be "complicit" in an Israeli attack on Iran.

Dempsey's comments were seen as a rebuke to Israel stepping up threats of making a unilateral strike against Iran's nuclear facilities before the U.S. presidential election on November 6.

Washington has urged Israel to hold fire to give economic sanctions and diplomacy more time to curb Iran's uranium enrichment, which Tehran says is for peaceful purposes. Israel fears Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons capability - something it considers a potential threat to the country's existence.

The U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv had no comment on Winnefeld's visit, which Israeli Army Radio said began several days ago and included an inspection of Israel's Iron Dome rocket interception system, jointly funded with the United States.

In its press release, the Defense Ministry also included photographs of Winnefeld and Barak each appearing to measure, with their thumbs and index fingers, the size of Israel on a map of the Middle East on a wall in Barak's office.

(Writing by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

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